I had an epiphany while I was crouching in the jungle in the middle of the night. I don’t know why these flashes of inspiration always come to be at the most awkward times, like when I’m drenched by monsoon showers and covered in camouflage cream, but they just do. My epiphany was this: Maybe I could write a blog post about this kickass experience. And so I did.
So after I spent 7 years in hiding, the SAF finally caught up with me and called me up for a 2.5-week reservist training. The conspiracy theorist in me wants to say that it’s because I signed up for those damned NS-45 vouchers (which probably have like RFID chips embedded in them to help the SAF track down forgotten kids like me). But the fact remains: I’m gonna have to spend 2.5 weeks a year running around jungles again.
ICT actually turned out to be pretty fun. Tough, but fun. NS Men are actually pretty damn hilarious when you take them out of an office environment and stick ‘em in a remote location together with a bunch of dudes. I made some great friendships, and even gleaned some personal finance lessons that I’d like to share with you:
1. Don’t overprepare
Okay, this is pretty embarrassing, but two weeks before ICT started, I actually called my unit up and asked, “Sooooo… what should I bring to ICT?” And this blur-sounding Private responded with a very helpful, “Errrrrrrrrr… just bring all your barang-barang lah.” Gotta love their excellent customer service.
Remembering how anal the Army was about equipment during my NSF days, I went down to Beach Road and spent like 20 bucks restocking my equipment, most of which were so old that they crumbled into dust in my hands.
And then I got to ICT only to realize that all that stuff didn’t matter at all – We hardly used any of it. The smarter NS Men (not me) simply turned up with absolutely nothing, and waited until their stuff was replaced for free.
There’s some merit in just winging it, instead of trying to prepare for every possible contingency. The same goes for investments: You could spend 10 years reading every investment book there is, and still not know how to invest effectively. Or you could simply wing it: Read one or two books, carve out $200, and buy a couple of ETFs. You’ll learn far more by actually investing than reading some lame financial textbook.
2. Embrace “Rush to wait, wait to rush”
If you’ve served NS, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ll wake up at 4.30 in the morning, get changed, rush to draw your weapons, wolf down your breakfast, rush to the training area… only to end up waiting 2 hours for the programme to begin.
I got really annoyed by this during the first few days of ICT. “Why can’t the SAF be more efficient?!” And then as it happened over and over again, I realized that it’s simply an inherent characteristic when you have to coordinate large groups of people. It is virtually impossible for large groups to move in a smooth, consistent manner – there are too many variables involved.
In the same way, a lot of newbie investors get misled by statements like “The stock market gains 8 percent a year on average”. They take this to mean that they’ll get a steady, consistent, stream of 8 percent returns every year.
In reality, the stock market exhibits a “rush to wait, wait to rush” behavior. It’ll rise by 30 percent one year, crash 25 percent the next, bounce back up by 42 percent the year after, and then crawl up at a pathetic 5 percent after that. It’ll average out to be 8 to 10 percent per year, but not without a bunch of variability.
This is what happens when large groups of people get together to decide on a price. Embrace the variability, sit tight, and take naps when you get the chance. At least, that’s how I caught up on sleep during ICT.
3. It’s who you know
There are archaic rules that characterize every large institution like the SAF. For example, it boggles me that I can get called up for ICT, but still be listed as “Not Active” in MINDEF’s system.
I came across this annoying administrative oversight when I was trying to change my boots for a brand new pair. I proudly presented my crappy old boots and scanned my 11-B. The shop attendant looked at her screen, snatched my boots away, and muttered, “You listed as not active. Cannot change.”
I would’ve been left bootless for the rest of my life if it weren’t for a bunkmate who ran down to where I was and kindly gave me his spare boot entitlement.
It’s a cliché, but it’s really who you know. The most influential senior executives I know use their relationships to save money, secure airline seats or concert tickets, and get around dumb rules like the SAF’s boot change policy. It might seem unfair, but that’s how the world works.
Instead of bitching about how being in the 99 percent sucks, do what the 1 percent does. Meet as many people as you can, help them out where possible, and don’t badmouth them. Have drinks with your ICT bunkmates. You never know when you might need their help.
Back to civilization
It’s been a week since ICT ended. In short, it really wasn’t all that bad. I got free food, free exercise, made some great friends, and learnt a few personal finance lessons.
So who says that ICT is a complete waste of time? 🙂